When I was a teenager I used to love to collect those Women and Songs compilation CD’s. After the success in the late nineties of Sarah McLachlan’s all-female traveling music festival and concert tours, Lilith Fair, it was the big thing. What a wonderful celebration of women song writers and singers.
I thought since Thursday was World Book Day and today is International Women’s Day, I would write about my idols, both of whom just happen to be female authors who wrote amazing books, a world apart, but with that one common similarity of being female in what always was a man’s world.
I am fascinated with the women’s rights movement and how far we have come, but am aware of how much further we, on this planet, still have to go. In many places all over the world, things are still very backward. I don’t pretend to be all that educated on what it is like for other women, in different parts of the world. I can say that as a woman with a disability, I have a double weight on top of me, but I realize how lucky I am to have been born in Canada. Instead, I will speak about something I do know a little about. My two favourite female authors are the late great Lucy Maud Montgomery and J. K. Rowling. They wrote their perspective masterpiece stories of Anne and Harry at both ends of the twentieth century, but their similar experiences in the world of writing and book publishing illustrate both the success and the difficulty women writers have faced, then and now.
Lucy Maud wrote the Canadian children’s classic Anne of Green Gables during the earliest years of The Women’s Suffrage Movement. She wrote about a strong and willful young heroine with red hair and a fiery passionate personality to match, in a time when women didn’t even have the right to vote. She was a strong educated, and creative female who wrote about an equally strong, educated, and creative female. It must have been very difficult for her to try and find any success in those days. History is littered with talented female writers: the Bronte sisters, Jane Austin, and Louisa May Alcott, but although we still remember their names long after, the fights to be recognized must have been more than we could imagine all these years later. I wish I could speak with them all and ask them what it was like. It is 2014 and there still has not been a female American president. It seems more subtle in this part of the world, but the underlying issues for women are still being worked out.
Montgomery was alive during a time when women were expected to stick to what they knew: cooking, cleaning, and motherhood. Anne is a character who fought against those stereotypes, in a time when most girls wouldn’t dare. The fight was only just beginning. Most publishing houses would take a look at a book written by a female author and toss it aside in favour of a male written adventure story. Those were the stories worth publishing and printing. How on Earth did Anne ever gain the popularity it did? Women wanted to read too, not only men, that’s how.
Nine or ten decades later and J. K. Rowling has penned a story that would soon change the world for millions of young readers everywhere. She’d fought through adversity and poverty and one of the only things keeping her going was her love of writing. She had been lucky to come up with the idea of the “chosen boy wizard”, but someone had to give it a chance.
Miraculously Rowling is one of the lucky ones and her manuscript lands in the lap of a publisher who thinks they could have a hit on their hands. There’s only one problem…
Rowling was born Joe Rowling, Joanne, but some decision was made that this name simply wouldn’t do. She received a call from her publisher one day, out of the blue, with the recommendation that she be known as J. K., the K standing for her grandmother Kathleen. The initials, just like L. M., were suggested to disguise the fact that the author of the books they were about to try to sell was actually female. She was told that boys will be less likely to pick up and read a book if they think it was written by a woman. Of course, like myself, most would think this was a ridiculous idea. Almost the year 2000 and how far had we really come if we still had to worry so much about something like this? She decided not to fight this and she has since been known as J. K., vague and ambiguous and we shall now never know how well the Harry Potter series would have done if she had gone by her real full name.
I think it’s a sad state of affairs really, that in this day in age a pen name was necessary at all. I guess I can’t really fault Rowling for going along with it and not making a federal case out of the whole thing. How do I know I wouldn’t act in the exact same way if I had been given the chance of a lifetime that she had. I don’t mean to come off sounding overly pessimistic about how far we haven’t yet come as women, because that really is becoming less and less of a problem as we progress. I know, have heard all the statistics about women working their way up the ranks as CEO’s and powerful presidents of huge companies, running their own businesses, and alike. Men are taking maternity leave as stay-at-home dads while their wives are the bread winners. This is all very promising and a positive sign of things to come. We’ll see if and when Hillary Clinton is given the chance to run one of the most powerful countries in the world, better than all the men who came before her.
As a writer and a lover of books and as a woman myself; I found this story about Rowling to be extremely interesting, and I was left to wonder at the strange world we live in.
I love books and I love my female author role models. they give me strength and provide an endless amount of inspiration and encouragement. I don’t know where I’d be without, specifically, these two ladies and the stories and imaginations they chose to share with me and countless others. I can take lessons away from these two women as I go forward as a disabled, female, writer. Sometimes labels are just the reality. I hope that International Women’s Day each year going forward serves to remind us that while we’ve come along way, we still have work to be done.